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84              A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
table. When his writing-was completed he folded the piece of linen and, handing it back to me, asked me to put it on a copper ash-tray that was lying beside me on the divan.
I awaited the next operation with some interest. The old man took a piece of paper and drew a large triangle upon it; within the triangle he inscribed some mysterious signs, as well as a few Arabic letters. Handing me the paper he asked me to place it on the folded piece of linen. I obeyed. There was a lull of a minute or so, he muttered a few phrases of incomprehensible jargon, tightly closing his eyes the while, and then suddenly opened the heavy-lashed lids.
Almost immediately the torn handkerchief caught light and blazed up in the tray beside me. The flame shot high up in the air, to my amazement, and then turned into a dense cloud of smoke which completely filled the room. It became difficult to breathe, one's eyes smarted, and I rose hastily to retreat to the doorway. But the magician was there before me, called for his servant, and had the latter open all the windows and thus clear the air in the room.
Whether the feat was genuine magic or a piece of good conjuring involving the use of inflammable chemicals did not trouble me, as I could not see much point in the whole demonstration. But the old man was evidently quite proud of it.
"How did you set fire to the handkerchief?" I asked.
"With the help of my genii," was the explanation—which explained nothing. I let it go at that. It is the usual explanation one hears in Egypt of anything that is in the slightest degree supernatural
"Come again in three days' time," he said, "but do not forget to bring a white fowl with you. Because I perceive something in you which pleases me, I shall render you a service quite freely. Bring me the white fowl and with it I shall do some magic to put a jinn-spirit at your service. Remember, the fowl should not be too young nor too old, nor should it be of any other colour."
Thinking of the African witch-doctors who cut the throats of white cocks and then fling the blood over their client's head, I declined his magnanimous offer. He pressed me repeatedly and confidently assured me that this magical operation which he had in view would attract the aid of a powerful genie who would work for my success. But I continued to refuse. At last, however, he "cornered" me; I told him that such ceremonies